“A knucklehead is too soft. I was the John Gotti of my neighborhood, man. If anything bad went down in my neighborhood, I either caused it or I did it: car window smashed; bike stolen; kids being beat up, be it girls or boys. Somebody got hit in the head with a brick? I did it. Plate glass window got broken in somebody’s house? I did it. This was pre-computer and cell phone and video games. You had to do something to occupy your time.”
— Bo Jackson when asked what he was like growing up.
Ever wonder where Vincent Edward Jackson’s nickname of Bo came from?
“He was merciless; he flung rocks and crab apples and punches with equal accuracy, and at one point, in the midst of a fight over a Ping-Pong paddle, he hit one of his female cousins with a baseball bat and said he would have hit her again if his siblings hadn’t stepped in. He’d steal a bike, strip it, toss it into a fire to burn the paint off, spray-paint it, and that same afternoon, ride down the street past the house he’d stolen it from.”
“Because of his ability to withstand punches to his chest from his older brothers and sisters, because he wrestled children twice his age and ducked no fight and reveled in his own stubbornness, he had been given a nickname, truncated from Southern shorthand for a wild boar. In time, Bo-Hog became Bo.”
— Michael Weinreb, Bigger Than the Game
Arsenio Hall: Is there any other athlete in sports today that you think could do the kind of things you’re doing?
Bo Jackson: Sure, there’s a lot of guys talking about doing it. There’s the Sanders guy from Florida State, Deion Sanders. He’s trying to do it. I wish him the best of luck but the way to do it is not with his mouth. Because he has to go out and show what he can do instead of sit and talk about it.
Arsenio Hall: He talks a lot?
Bo Jackson: You could say that. But to me, the only people that get high places by running their mouths are politicians and there’s no room in this game for politics.
— The Arsenio Hall Show (1989)
Photo via the always on point steven lebron.
September 8, 1990. Nolan Ryan took the mound to face the Kansas City Royals. After a 1-2-3 first inning, Bo Jackson led off the second with a line drive straight back towards the mound and into Ryan’s chin. The 43 year-old veteran pitcher recovered in time to throw out the speedy Bo.
With his chin split open and blood streaming down, and his team 16.5 games out of the playoff hunt with 23 left to play, Ryan stepped back onto the mound to throw seven innings that day (one run, three hits, eight strikeouts), keeping the Rangers in the game until a Rafael Palmeiro walkoff double in the ninth.
Most Bo Jackson stories read like a Pecos Bill tall tale. They sound as if they’ve been embellished each time they’re told. I can only hope that this personal account of Seattle Mariner’s second basemen, Bret Boone, really happened.
Bo Jackson was on first base and we picked him off. He didn’t even try to go back to first; he just took off running to second. They threw the ball to me and we had him out by 15 feet. But Bo is still running at me full steam. I’m thinking, ‘You’ve got to get in a rundown, dude.’ But he’s running like he’s going to run me over at the plate. I’m thinking, ‘What are you doing, dude? Well, I guess he’ll slide.’ But then he’s five feet away and he’s still in full stride. And I’m like, ‘Holy s—-, what the hell’s going to happen?’ And I jumped back out of the way. And then he came to the base at full speed and went ‘pop!’ — stopped right on the bag. He was safe, but they called him out because the ball beat him. That’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. I had the ball 15 feet before he got there, waiting for him, and he made me not tag him. He said to me, ‘Boonie, you know I was safe.’ I said, ‘You’re right.’ He just scared me.
This is my white whale, my unicorn, my Eleanor, my mirage.
I’ve publicly professed my love for Bo Jackson. He’s one of my top two favorite athletes and I’ve spent far too long searching the internet for one of these shirts. I would sweat this shirt as a child and I still do as an adult. It was iconic. Nike has been building off this ad campaign ever since; Amare Knows, Troy Knows, Tebow Know, Pac Man Knows. There is even the BustedTees’ Bo Knows Obscurity. It’s a phrase that’s stayed in the collective conscience for well over a decade.
Occasionally one of the original shirts will pop up on eBay but the sellers always want an outrageous amount for shipping. It’s no matter, I’ll keep looking. One day she will be mine, oh yes, she will be mine.
All this Auburn hype got me thinking about how growing up there was one particular athlete that I truly considered a hero. There were countless players I looked up to but none of them seemed as super human as Bo Jackson. Maybe it was the lack of media coverage (compared to today’s standards) but he always seemed more like a tall tale than a professional athlete. More like Paul Bunyan than Eric Dickerson. I didn’t actually see half of the amazing stunts I heard about him pulling.
Think about how Bo’s career started and try to picture it happening in 2011. He was a three sport athlete coming out of college and won the Heisman Trophy at Auburn. He had so much raw talent that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected him number one overall in the draft. Tampa knew Bo wanted to play both baseball and football but drafted him hoping to convince him to only play solely in the NFL. Bad plan. Instead Bo signed with the Kansas City Royals and Tampa got nothing.
Since Bo didn’t sign with an NFL team his name was put back into the draft the following year. The Los Angeles Raiders selected him in the 7th round. I bet people were complaining about crazy Al Davis back then too. There’s Al Davis, reaching in the 7th round for Bo Jackson because of his 4.08 40 time. Al Davis has always and will always be enamored with speed.
That year Bo continued to play baseball, he didn’t join the Raiders until midway through the season. He played only seven games and still managed to rush for 554 yards as a backup to Marcus Allan. See what I’m saying? Forget all the draft stuff. Just try to imagine a player missing the first half of the NFL season because he was playing for Royals. That would never fly in today’s “NFL rules all” world. He really had an unbelievable career. And I didn’t even mention a word about his highlights.
A Chitwood & Hobbs Field Report